Friday, July 11, 2008

Finally, a photo, and some thoughts on squash

I think I forgot to sing the praises of those cucumbers (in the foreground) in the original Week 6 post. Haven't tried them yet, but they look lovely.

On to the squash, which I think (and I have no evidence to support this) is the number one subject of complaint about summer (over)abundance.

Two thoughts, both Asian in flavors, both delicious.

First, on the grill. This is a great accompaniment to grilled chicken or steak, adapted from the grilling bible. Slice the squash lengthwise into planks 3/8 inch thick. Brush each slice with neutral (canola, grapeseed or peanut) oil into which you've stirred 2 cloves of garlic, minced, and a pinch each of good saltand pepper. Brush both sides, and leave to sit for a few minutes. Then make a sweet miso glaze: 7 T sugar, 1/4 c white miso, 3 T mirin (sweet rice wine, and 2-3 T water, all stirred together. Grill the squash 6-8 minutes turning once, over a medium hot fire. You should have nice dark grill marks. Then brush the with the glaze, and grill one more minute on each side. Good hot, lukewarm or cold. This recipe is actually for eggplant, not squash, but both are fantastic with this preparation--it has been known to convert eggplant haters.

Second--make a Thai style curry. This is from Mark Bittman's newish How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, a book I just bought and am loving. Easy, easy. Heat 3 T neutral oil (canola, peanut, grapeseed) in a skillet and add one thinly sliced onion. Cook over medium heat until the onion is softened, about five minutes. If it browns a bit, that's ok . Add 2 T chopped garlic, the grated zest of one lime (do you and your kitchen a favor, and buy a microplane graterfor this task!) and 2 dried chiles. Add about 5 cups chopped zucchini or summer squash--I used two small zucchini, a summer squash and a couple of pattypans, and cut them into chunks about 3/4-1 inch on a side. You don't want the pieces too small. Continue to cook the squash until it's softened and a bit caramelized, ten or fifteen minutes--don't let it burn. Add one can of light coconut milk, 3 T Thai fish sauce and 1 T chili paste, or to taste (I like spice, a lot, and for this, I use Sambal Oelek, an Indonesian hot sauce, available around here at Guido's. If you're a chile-phobe, you could leave out both the dried and the paste, and still have something eminently worth eating. However, if you do omit the spice, you might want to squeeze in some lime juice just before serving to brighten the flavors a bit.) Cook until the sauce has thickened down some--about ten minutes--and serve hot over rice. Again, this is a recipe written for eggplant, but divine with a mix of squashes.

Next up--Tex Mex. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Week Six -- Green Day

After the bright red of last week's gorgeous beets, this week's haul is all about green: zucchini, kale, field lettuce, parsley and, just for variety, summer squash, too. To top it off, the first onions of the summer, their enormous green leaves still trailing.

Photo will be up shortly, as well as a report on a great Asian recipe for all that squash. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Francophilic Lexicon, Part Deux

One thing I enjoy living where I do is that the place is lousy with serious cooks. I had never experienced dinner party as competitive (albeit friendly) sport until moving to Columbia County, and similarly, have never found so many knowledgeable foodophiles lurking beneath unassuming exteriors. I recently had the pleasure of working with a lovely carpenter to build shelves and such in our home offices; turns out, he's a chef. When I gifted him with some fresh eggs from our hens, he responded by emailing me the list of delights he'd created with them (some for a slightly unappreciative audience: his young daughters.) The list included bourride (a fish soup thickened with aioli), and he attributed his version to Richard Olney. His incredulity at my ignorance of this influential cook led him to lend me Olney's Simple French Food,and I've been cooking from it ever since.

My affection for Olney has expanded my lexicon. Mangetout has a new rival for best French food name: pois chiches, aka chick peas. Who could resist such an adorable name for the earthy, peasant food staple? Sometimes, in the heady days of summer bounty, I forget that I don't have to cook vegetables in stand alone preparations--it's more than ok to raid the larder for staples to complement, even exalt, the fresh produce. But Olney's recipe for Gratin de Pois-Chiches aux Épinards stopped me mid-read. I love chickpeas (and not just for their newly-revealed charming French name.) I soak and cook them myself rather than buy them canned and the (slight) effort is well worth the tastier, better-textured result. With a giant bag of CSA greens (beet, turnip and chard) lurking in the fridge, I got to work and came up with this. It's fabulous hot, warm or even out of the fridge, and would be a great addition to a dinner party when you know you have vegetarians on the guest list, but don't want to serve a completely vegetarian menu. It would accompany grilled lamb, sausages or even shrimp beautifully, but with some crusty bread and a green salad, is also a filling and delicious main course.

This recipe has a few steps, but they're all easy. Nothing needs a lot of fussing or attention. I served this last night with one of my favorite salads: arugula, shaved parmesan, a drizzle of great olive oil (no vinegar), a sprinkle of Maldon salt, and a grind of pepper. To make this salad, you need great ingredients: farm fresh arugula, and high quality cheese and oil. Locally, check out the wonderful olive oils at Bizalion's. For parmesan, you can't do much better than Rubiner's. Bon appétit!

Provencal Chick Pea and Greens Gratin
(serves 4 as a main dish; 6 or more as a side dish)

1-2 pounds greens (beet, chard, spinach or turnip will all work--more or less is fine, depending upon what you have in your fridge)
kosher salt
2-3 cups dried chickpeas (again, more or less is fine--this recipe doesn't demand precision, for the most part)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 t dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 onion, peeled and stuck with 2 cloves
1 chile de arbol (optional)
4 T extra virgin olive oil, divided (plus more for serving)
1 28 oz. can chopped tomatoes, drained
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 c. chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 t dried savory
1 T raw almond butter
2 hard boiled eggs
1/8 t cayenned pepper
1/8 t saffron
freshly ground pepper
3/4 c. fresh bread crumbs

Soak the chickpeas in plenty of cold water with the baking soda added for at least four hours or overnight. (Make sure to pick them over a bit for stones.) Drain off the water, rinse, and then recover with several inches of fresh water. Add the thyme, bay leaf, onion with cloves, chile de arbol and a generous pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until tender, usually about one and a half to two hours. You can do this the day before; if you do, you might as well make extra chickpeas for salads, making hummus, etc. When they're done, drain off the liquid and reserve it.

Bring a large quantity of water and a teaspoon of salt to boil in a big pot. Add the greens and blanch for three minutes, then drain, reserving a cup of the cooking water (you can add it to the reserved chick pea water.) Coarsely chop the drained greens.

If you haven't already, combine the drained chickpea cooking water and the greens cooking water and bring to a boil; simmer until slightly thickened and reduced to about one cup. If the liquid seems to be getting too salty, stop reducing. Skim off any foam that forms on the surface. Set aside the liquid.

In a skillet, heat 2 T olive oil and gently stew the garlic and tomatoes in it, along with the savory and parsley. Keep the pan on low heat for about fifteen minutes to allow the flavor to meld. Meanwhile, in a food processor or with mortar and pestle, combine the almond butter, egg yolks from the hard boiled eggs, cayenne and saffron into a firm paste. Slice the egg whites into thin slices across their length.

Combine the chickpeas, reduced cooking liquids, tomato mixture, egg and almond paste and egg whites and bring to a simmer. Crush a few of the chickpeas with a wooden spoon to thicken the stew. The mixture should be thick, not soupy. If it seems too liquid, let it reduce a bit. Stir in the greens, and a couple of grinds of fresh pepper, and turn the mixture into a gratin dish (I use an oval baking dish about 15 inches long.) Combine the bread crumbs with 2 T olive oil and sprinkle atop the dish. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve hot or room temperature, and offer more high quality olive oil to drizzle on top when served.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Weekend report--Eat your roots

I tried out two new recipes on unsuspecting, not-particularly-foodie friends this weekend, and in one case, refused to reveal the main ingredient before the dish was tasted. Why? Turnips, like brussels sprouts, seem to inspire undeserved antipathy. They're delicious raw and cooked, and easy to prepare (save the peeling), but kind of misunderstood, it seems.

I've been eating mine mostly raw, in salads, and they are divine that way. I had some lightly caramelized at a restaurant the other week, and they were good, but I wanted something different. From legendary (and unknown to me until recently, I'm ashamed to say) cook and author Richard Olney, I adapted a fantastic turnip omelet.

Before you wrinkle your nose, let me just say--I know. It's a leap of faith. But in my case, it was rewarded. Deliciously.

Turnip Omelet (adapted from Richard Olney's Simple French Food)

2 bunches baby turnips--enough to give 2-3 cups, packed, after grating
kosher salt
2 T olive oil
2 T butter
1 t savory (I used dried; fresh seems impossible to find and I don't have it in my garden--yet!)
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup pitted oil cured olives, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
3 eggs, lightly beaten

Grate the turnips--easiest in a Cuisinart. Pile in a bowl and toss with a couple pinches of kosher salt. Toss to mix thoroughly and leave to sit, lightly covered, for 30 minutes. Squeeze out as much of the liquid that's been released as you can.

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Heat the butter in a small saute pan--mine was 7 inches. 9 would have worked too; 12 would be too big for these quantities. After it foams, add the turnips, the savory, and a grating of pepper. Cook over low-medium heat until the turnips are tender--15-20 minutes--but don't let them brown. If you need to, turn down the heat. When the turnips are finished, remove them from the heat and allow to cool slightly. (You could do this way ahead of time if you wanted.)

When you're ready to make the omelet, stir the cooled turnips. parsley and olives into the eggs. Wipe out the saute pan and place over medium heat for a minute, then add the oil. When it starts to shimmer, swirl the pan to coat thoroughly with the oil, and add the egg mixture. Cook over medium heat. The bottom will set and the top will still be liquid. At this point, you can put it in the oven to finish, and if you like, you can also call it a frittata. (Finishing will take about ten minutes--watch to see when the top is nicely set and puffy) or you can play at being Olney, and attempt to flip it. This involves loosening the entire omelet--carefully--with a heatproof spatula, and then in a single motion, tossing it up in the air and catching it as it comes down, having neatly reversed itself. I did it this way, and lost part of the bottom layer in the process, but it doesn't really matter. This is divine warm or room temperature or straight from the fridge, if you have leftovers. Serves six as a first course with a bit of salad alongside, two as a lunch with a lot of salad, or one very hungry person who doesn't like to share.

Divine with a good Gruner Veltliner.

Alongside, we made the other root vegetable that seems to make everyone cringe, beets. I hated beets, too, as a kid, and truthfully, I don't love them cooked. Nigella (in that great Forever Summer book) reveals the same prejudice, and suggests we eat them raw. She's right. This is really good, with the lemon and parsley balancing out the sweet and oddly bland flavor of the beets. It is also much better after an overnight marination in the fridge. If you do it that way, add another handful of parsley right before serving.

Raw Beet Salad (adapted from Nigella Lawson)

2 bunches raw beets (about 5 cups, grated
juice of 2 large lemons (or more to taste)
excellent olive oil
sea salt
freshly grated black pepper
1/2 c chopped flatleaf parsley (or more, if you're going to hold it to serve the next day.)

Peel the beets. Wear rubber gloves, and an apron. Trust me on this. Grate them in a food processor. (If you do it by hand, you will have beet juice, which stains mercilessly, all over your kitchen. Totally not worth it.) Toss the grated beets with the lemon juice, a tablespoon or more of the really good oil, the chopped parsley (reserving a bit to put on top just before serving, to make it look lovely and green) and salt and pepper to taste. That's it.

Mark Bittman in his picnic column this week offered a similar salad, and suggested including some goat cheese. Personally, I don't like it when the goat cheese goes all pink from the beets, but I know that's ridiculous. I might try it with shavings of good parmesan, instead, though.